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Orzo Pesto Salad

Jun 20, 2022 | 2 comments

This super easy orzo pesto salad will become your go-to for parties, meal prep or as a quick, healthy weeknight meal. It’s as simple as mixing orzo with lots of herby pesto, tomatoes, parmesan and olives (or crunchy veggies of your choice!) It’s fab for feeding a crowd, keeps really well and is full of Mediterranean flavours everyone will love.

Orzo pesto salad in a large colourful serving bowl with a silver spoon.

I think this salad might be my desert island dish. It’s something my mum used to make all the time back in New Zealand and it never fails to disappoint. It’s my go-to whenever I need to bring a salad to any occasion, and it’s particularly lovely for barbecues, garden parties and picnics. It keeps so well and the flavor only develops over time, so it’s a fab one to make a big batch of on a Sunday to enjoy for lunch throughout the week.

The base is very much inspired by Caprese salad, with pesto, basil and tomatoes featuring front and centre. But this is a BRILLIANT recipe to tweak and add your own spin to. I love adding crunchy bell peppers, scallions, cucumber, red onion or sundried tomatoes. Or swap basil pesto for sundried tomato pesto or wild garlic pesto when it’s in season.

My boyfriend can often be found sneaking spoonfuls of this from the fridge whenever I make it – it’s genuinely that good.


Only a handful of ingredients go into this easy salad – and there are lots of swaps you can make, based on what you have to hand.

Ingredients for orzo pesto salad laid out on a white marble background and labelled.
  • Orzo. I LOVE orzo in pasta salads. It’s a small, almost rice-like pasta shape that is brilliant in this dish because it matches the size of all the other ingredients, and is easily picked up with a spoon (key in my opinion!) But, you can use another small dried pasta shape like macaroni or fusilli if you can’t find orzo.
  • Pesto. Try to find a good quality, fresh pesto if you can because it will really make the dish. The pesto is the primary flavour so you want it to taste good! If you’d like to make your own, give my pesto recipe a go (I promise it’s super easy!)
  • Cherry tomatoes. I like vine cherry tomatoes because they have the best flavour and much like with pesto, it’s key to use good quality ingredients here.
  • Olives. I’m not the biggest fan of olives, EXCEPT for Kalamata olives. They are just such delicious little flavour bombs and I always have a jar in my fridge. You can use whatever olive you prefer here if you don’t have Kalamata. Don’t like them? Swap them for sundried tomatoes.
  • Pine nuts. These little beauties bring texture and crunch to the dish so don’t skip them. They can be expensive though, so you can replace them with a different nut or seed. Walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds would work well.

OPTIONAL ADDITIONS: Add whatever crunchy veggies you have to hand – bell peppers are great, or cucumber, red onion and scallions.

How to make it

Start by getting your orzo into a large pot, along with salt and water. Bring it to a boil and cook until al dente (you want it to have a bit of a bite still). Drain, then rise the orzo thoroughly with cold water. This is because you don’t want the orzo to stick together in big clumps which will happen if you don’t rinse the starch off. It also cools the orzo down quickly so you can add the rest of the salad ingredients immediately.

While the orzo is cooking, prepare the rest of the salad ingredients. Chop your cherry tomatoes into quarters (I like quartering them because then they’re closer in size to the orzo and are easier to eat), chop the Kalamata olives in half, grate your parmesan cheese and toast your pine nuts.

PRO TIP: Be careful when you’re toasting the pine nuts because they can easily burn. I like to pop them into a small, dry pan, then stir them for a couple of minutes until they start to smell a bit ‘toasty’ and have golden spots on either side.

Once your orzo is cooked and rinsed and your salad ingredients are prepped, it’s as simple as adding everything to a large bowl, giving it a very good mix to make sure the pesto is coating every piece of orzo and then dishing up.

Got a question?

What can I serve the orzo salad with?

I find that this salad really can be a meal in itself, but it’s wonderful as a side to a barbecue or picnic. I love that it’s so easy to prepare in advance and transports well so it’s a great one to take along to events or parties to enjoy with friends and family. Or, pair it with grilled meat (it’s lovely with miso grilled chicken, gochujang chicken, honey harissa chicken or lamb koftas) or a selection of other salads.

Can I make this in advance?

You certainly can! In fact, I often think it tastes even better the next day. It will last for 5 days in the fridge in a covered container, but if you’re preparing it to take to a barbecue or picnic, I’d wait to add the cherry tomatoes until the day of if possible. They can get a little soggy when chopped in the fridge.

I don’t like olives, what else can I use?

You can really add anything to this salad – sometimes I’ll throw in diced cucumber or red bell peppers. If you want to keep that lovely salty quality, try using capers or sundried tomatoes.

I can’t find orzo – can I use a different pasta shape?

Yes, you can! If you can’t find orzo, go for another small dried pasta shape like macaroni or fusilli.

Can you freeze a pasta salad?

Technically yes, you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it. When defrosted, you’ll find it has a strange, gummy texture and just won’t be a good experience to eat.

Like this recipe? Here are some more salads you might enjoy

If you make this recipe, I’d love to hear from you! You can leave me a comment below.

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Orzo pesto salad in a large colourful serving bowl with a silver spoon.

Orzo Pesto Salad

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5 from 1 review

  • Author: Kate Alexandra
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 6 servings 1x
  • Diet: Vegetarian


This super easy orzo pesto salad will become your go-to for parties, meal prep or as a quick, healthy weeknight meal. It’s as simple as mixing orzo with lots of herby pesto, tomatoes, parmesan and olives (or crunchy veggies of your choice!) It’s fab for feeding a crowd, keeps really well and is full of Mediterranean flavours everyone will love.

I’ve included my recipe for basil pesto below if you’d like to give it a go, otherwise, just use whatever pesto you can find in the store.


Units Scale

For the orzo pesto salad –

  • 11oz/300g orzo (or another small dried pasta of your choice)
  • 11oz/300g cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 cup of Kalamata olives, halved (optional)
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 3 scallions, finely sliced
  • 1/3 cup feta (optional)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (or roughly crushed cashews, walnuts, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds)
  • 3/4 cup pesto (use my quick homemade recipe below or your favourite store-bought pesto)
  • Salt to taste

For the homemade pesto –

  • 2 packed cups basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (or cashews, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil


  1. Make your pesto (skip this step if you’re using store-bought pesto). Add the 2 cups of basil leaves, ½ cup grated parmesan, ⅓ cup pine nuts (or alternative), 3 garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and ½ teaspoon of salt to the bowl of a food processor and blitz for a minute, until it turns into a rough paste. Scrape down the sides. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil to create a lovely emulsified pesto.
  2. Cook the orzo. Get your orzo in a big pot of salted water and pop it over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook until al dente (this is when the pasta still has a little bit of a bite). This will take approximately 10 minutes. 
  3. Prepare the other ingredients. While your pasta is cooking, get all the other ingredients ready. Chop your crunchy vegetables and your olives if you’re using them, crumble your feta (if you’re using it), grate your parmesan and get your pine nuts (or alternative) in a small dry pan over medium heat and toss for a couple of minutes, until they’re fragrant and have little golden spots on either side.
  4. Cool the orzo. Drain your orzo and rinse thoroughly with cold water. This is because 1) you want it to be cool when you add the salad ingredients and 2) you don’t want it all sticking together so you want to wash off the starch.
  5. Make the salad. Add the orzo and all your salad ingredients to a large bowl and go in with a couple of good grinds of black pepper. Give everything a very good mix, making sure the pesto coats all the pasta. Taste, season with more salt if needed (this will depend on how salty your pesto is), dish up and dig in.


INGREDIENT NOTES: This salad is really flexible, based on what you have to hand and what you like. Swap the olives for sundried tomatoes or jarred artichokes, and add diced cucumber, red onion, and buffalo mozzarella (it’s lovely with little bocconcini balls). You can also add some grilled chicken or tofu to bulk it out with more protein. Use sunflower seeds, pumpkin (pepita seeds) or chopped nuts (like almonds, cashews, hazelnuts or pistachios) in place of the pine nuts.

STORAGE INSTRUCTIONS: This pesto orzo salad keeps really well. Store it in the fridge in a covered container for up to 5 days (though it’s likely it’ll be gone far quicker than that!) The cherry tomatoes tend to go a little soggy, so if you are preparing this to take to a party, add them the day you want to serve the salad for maximum freshness.

  • Prep Time: 10
  • Cook Time: 10
  • Category: pasta
  • Method: stove top
  • Cuisine: mediterranean


  • Serving Size: 300g
  • Calories: 412
  • Sugar: 7g
  • Sodium: 469.9mg
  • Fat: 18.4g
  • Saturated Fat: 5.1g
  • Unsaturated Fat: 12.1g
  • Trans Fat: 0g
  • Carbohydrates: 46.7g
  • Fiber: 4.2g
  • Protein: 14.8g
  • Cholesterol: 12.2mg


I’m Kate, the creator behind Dished. I love creating flavour packed, simple (ish) recipes for you, designed for every day and special occasions.





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  1. Izzo

    This dish is a hit! I was able to make it ahead of time and keep it in the fridge, making it the perfect chilled summer dish for a hot night.


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